Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Manufacturing for end of 2015 Review

Manufacturing in Review - end of 2015

Like many other websites, articles, and blogs that end the year by taking a look back, I'm going to do the same here. In this case, I want to focus on some recent articles I read on the state of manufacturing and the economy as 2015 comes to a close. 

Basically, I want to explore whether manufacturing continues to expand in the economy, or are we starting to see a slowdown. We will do this by comparing three different reports, and different depths of information; the over all manufacturing economy, leading indicators to job shops and machining, and a view at one specific type of manufacturing.

Institute for Supply Management (Bigger Picture)

From the Institute for Supply management November report, they state that the overall national manufacturing has contracted this November for the first time in 36 months. "Economic activity in the manufacturing sector contracted in November for the first time in 36 months, since November 2012, while the overall economy grew for the 78th consecutive month, say the nation’s supply executives in the latest Manufacturing ISM® Report On Business®."

Of the 18 manufacturing industries tracked, five showed growth in November while ten a decline. Of the ten that showed a decline, several are key industries for job shops, machining, and the CADCAM industry, such as; machinery, fabricated metal products, and plastic products. 

If you read the whole article, the consensus is that the overall economy is still growing, but for the first time in three years, overall national manufacturing has shown a contraction. 

USMTO News Release (Medium Picture)

U.S. Manufacturing Technology Orders, or USMTO, tracks metal cutting, forming and fabricating orders. All industries important to the traditional CADCAM person. Many people consider the purchase of this equipment as a leading indicator of the overall economy. If companies are purchasing capital equipment, then they must have orders for jobs that requires this equipment, which means there is confidence in sales of final products yet to be released.

The Association for Manufacturing Technology's report from December 14 reports that, "orders for manufacturing technology in October 2015 were down 0.3% from September and year to date were down 17.4% compared to the same point in 2014"

Below is a chart of the Manufacturing orders with a 3 month and 12 month running average. This chart is from the AMT's Dec 14 USMTO report.
You can see the 12 month moving average is still fairly high, but the 3 month average is trending down, yet overall the values are still higher than the whole period from 2001 to 2008. 

Also reported and of interest is, "the number of net manufacturing jobs dropped by 1,000 while the larger economy added 211,000 jobs." Any contraction in the manufacturing workforce is especially interesting if we accept the position that there are manufacturing jobs available in the United States which are yet to be filled.

MoldMaking Business Index (More Macro View) 

Mold making is one area of manufacturing which requires expertise for complex parts, and associated with job shops. It is a logical place to see what is happening in the field of custom manufacturing. 

The Gardner Business Index for October, 2015, reported on December 10th states, "With a reading of 44.8, the MoldMaking Business Index showed that the industry contracted in October for the fifth month in a row, with the contraction rate having consistently accelerated in each of those months. The index generally has trended lower since February 2015, and in October, the industry contracted at its fastest rate since December 2012."

Additionally of interest are their comments regarding how the contraction rates are different based on the size of the company, "The index for companies with more than 250 employees has jumped dramatically to 71.0 from 41.7 in August. Since October 2014, these larger companies have expanded rapidly. All other plant sizes struggled in September and October, however, and the smallest facilities, those with fewer than 50 employees, contracted at their fastest rate since early 2013."

What does all of this mean?

Honestly I don't know. I think we won't see large growth rates like we saw in 2011 and 2012. If you missed that rise, you missed out, same as if you didn't invest in the stock market in 2010, doing so now may not get you the gains others received. 

What is unknown is whether the manufacturing investment portion of the economy will continue to contract, or will level out. If you tend to believe the economy moves in cycles every 8-10 years or so, then we would look for some more contraction in the coming year.

Many times I've seen the cycle where some job shops, especially the smaller ones, go out of business during the downturns in the economy. The Moldmaking Business Index reported that of the contraction, small shops have been affected the most, and I believe that is a common cycle.

Large, complete, packages of jobs go to large shops. Often these large shops specialize in producing the physically large tooling portions of those jobs, and sub contract a lot of the smaller work to smaller shops. When there is a small downturn in the economy, the large shop keeps more of the work they ordinarily subcontract in house, and the small job shop suffers. 

What can you Do?

Seriously, if you are a job shop, you have to stay competitive. You have to use your flexibility as an advantage to provide better timing at the same or better costs than what the large shop can do them. You can't do this if you still do everything the same way you did it ten or even five years ago. 

First get educated, get up to date on the latest trends in machining, tooling and software. Something as simple as changing fixturing, or how you set up you mill, can save you hours each week. 

Old, outdated software can be an anchor from taking advantage of newer, time saving machining strategies, especially in roughing. It may not provide the confidence to run unattended. If it's based on old technology, it may calculate too slow and not allow you to stay ahead of your jobs. If it's using an old interface, it may take too much time programming. Old technology may not provide the high surface finish possible with newer products. If you want to check out easy to use CAM functions, that is modern and up to date, check out some HSM products. If you need really advanced CAM functionality, check out the offerings from Delcam

Technology in cutting tools has advanced, and their material removal rates are the highest they have ever been. If not faster, some tools can provide a better finish, which your customer will appreciate, as well as all downstream operations. 

Happy 2016

Here at CAD CAM Zen, we wish you a happy and profitable 2016. 

What do you think is going to be the economic trend in manufacturing for 2016?
What advice do you have for shops going forward? 

Post a comment; let us know what you think.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Graphics Cards and CAD: Intel, GeForce, and Quadro

Intel, GeForce, Quadro - Oh My

Recently on a CADCAM forum, the question came up regarding using consumer level "gaming" graphics cards versus professional level cards. I've used a mixture of both for the last decade, so I thought it might be fun to write the latest blog on that topic. 

Basically, my work computers have had professional level cards, while my personal computer has had the lower cost "gaming" cards. Lately, it's harder to say gaming cards are that much less expensive, as the prices have increased and the fastest ones often cost more than an entry level laptop. 

The goal of this is not to do complex benchmarks. There are plenty of sites online that benchmark hardware. I want to answer the question, "Can you use consumer level graphics GPU's for CAD CAM?"

Personal Opinion, and this is just opinion, for most CAD/CAM uses, a fast consumer graphics card solution will work just as well as a professional level graphics card. This applies mostly to manufacturing, and not necessarily the actual design process, like what an automotive stylist would use. 

If you want to quantify some of the differences with a real basic test, read on: 

I tested my current Dell M6800 which has an Intel i7 - 4910mq processor and Nvidia Quadro K4100M professional level graphics, and it also has an integrated Intel 4600 graphics solution. 

The second system is a desktop with an Intel i7-4790K processor and Asus Strix GTX970 videocard which uses the nVidia 970 series of gpu's. 

The second system does have a faster CPU, so this is not a completely true apples to apples comparison, but hopefully the data will be helpful to you regardless.

The Test: 
I used a part with 1,952 faces, and is the physical size of two car doors, as shown below. We used the FRAPS app to measure frames per second (FPS) of dynamic rotations. We did the tests with Fusion 360, which allows for shading, rendering and ray tracing (as I ray traced the closer door in a metallic green paint).

When running the Intel 4600 integrated graphics, Fusion does show a message about checking the graphics card, and that performance could be affected. Below are the screen shots of the graphic card information from Fusion. 

Intel, GTX970 and Quadro

How did the graphics cards do with dynamic rotations of the doors? 

Intel 4600 - 15 FPS  for the shaded image and 15 FPS for the live rendering.
Quadro K4100M - 27 FPS for the shaded image and 21 FPS for the rendering.
GeForce GTX 970 - 38 FPS for the shaded part and 28 FPS for the live rendering.

Now it is probable the faster i7 processor helped out the GTX970 also, but the take away is that the consumer level cards perform competitively, comparable, if not faster, than the more expensive professional level cards. Both the the professional and gaming cards are better solutions than the integrated Intel graphics. 

All tests were run at HD 1920x1080 resolution. The addition of a second monitor did not affect the performance of any of the graphics cards in this quick test, they had the same frame rate as with a single monitor.

One thing I am unable to test, unless Asus wants to send me a second graphics card to test, is SLI mode. SLI, Scan Line Interface,  is where you add two (or three) video cards to your computer and connect them to each other. Each card renders one portion of your screen, and is popular for gamers with a healthy hardware budget. There is little information about using SLI in a CAD environment, but the general consensus is that it is not supported. 

Image quality:

In my personal opinion, the image quality was pretty close, among all three graphics options. I have a few screen shots below. One image has a rendering (not ray tracing) of a metallic green paint, the other is a smooth green paint.

Intel 4600:

Quadro K4100M:

GeForce GTX970:


If you are using a CAD CAM system that is picky about your graphics card, than you should probably use their recommended and tested graphics solutions. For many CAD CAM products, you can use a consumer level card as well as a professional card. Keep your drivers updated and enjoy. Comparing OpenGL vs DirectX is beyond the scope of what I wanted to accomplish, just as an FYI, Fusion uses DirectX, which is probably why it's not too picky about your graphics card choice. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Autodesk University Recap

Autodesk University Recap

Autodesk University "is the place to go for professional Autodesk users who want to deepen their knowledge, sharpen their skills, and network with their peers. We bring together 10,000 attendees from the architecture, engineering, manufacturing, film and games industries for a 3-day learning event. "

There is a whole lot of information sharing at AU, and even if you did not attend, you can still benefit from the classes there, more on that in a minute. 

I'd first like to post a few pictures taken during the event. To show a little of the event, for those unable to attend. 

Hanging the glider, this was going on during setup. Read how Wills Wings uses CAM in a hang glider.

These were most of the Autodesk people involved with engineering and manufacturing, their job was to help you through out the week.

A composite Formula 1 trainer, products like TruNest Composites help with composite manufacturing.

These are the droids they were looking for. Of course with Star Wars Episode VII coming soon, everyone was in a Star Wars state of mind. The Makr Shakr is a robotic bartender designed with Inventor. Plus, for more CAD and Star Wars fun, check out NinjasandBits

Orphanage guitars uses Fusion 360 and has reduced the cost of a custom guitar from $10,000 to $3,000.

Naturally there were cars: First the McLaren P1

and if two brothers make a supercar

Or if you let two guys named Micky and Mouse let the program do the creative work, utilizing billions of data inputs from sensors, you get an interesting, yet optimized, shape. You get the Hack Rod.

I have plenty of pictures more, but I'll leave you with this, what if you actually asked your customers for input, what they do, what they need. Then you put those suggestions and needs onto large boards. Next, you place those boards in your offices, for developers and product managers to see everyday. It's a great way to remind ourselves to focus on the customer, and that's your Zen thought for the day. 
Design, Make, Use

Autodesk University Classes

If you couldn't make it to AU, but would still like to benefit from the classes offered there, many are available online starting December 15th. Follow the Autodesk Classes link to watch some great content.

I hope you enjoyed today's post, and if you ever have questions or comments, feel free to leave them int he comments. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Finding Zen among the Hustle & Bustle at Autodesk University

Autodesk University

Autodesk University, or AU, is where Autodesk customers and users from all over get together to take classes, become certified, provide development input, see new features, network with others and also to have a great time. It is held in about a dozen locations world wide, and recently just finished in Las Vegas, Nevada, where there were over 10,000 users in attendance.

I had the privilege to attend for the first time, and I really enjoyed everything, from the setup, to key note sessions to the "Bash to the Future" closing ceremony. This event was so big, with so much jammed into it, I'll probably write about it more than once. 

Finding ZEN 

With so many meetings, classes, food and parties, it can be easy to get carried away. To think more selfishly about what one can glean for themselves, rather than what one can do for others. Which brings me to what I think was one of the coolest parts of AU 2015.

Autodesk University is literally a brain trust of 10,000 talented programmers, gifted designers, engineers of all sorts, and creative thinkers. The e-NABLE Hackathon allowed those that wanted to volunteer some of their time, to do so for a worthy cause. 

In this case, the Autodesk Foundation 3D Prints and assembles hands for children without hands to use. You can see all the components that go into a 3D printed hand below:

During the e-NABLE Hackathon, 3D digital design data of the hand was made available to volunteers. With that, certain problems and tasks were laid out and made available for the pool of experts to work through.

Now, this particular hand is mechanical only, not electro-mechanical. What that means is that the child opens and closes the fingers by flexing their wrist, and there are no electric motors that assist. Holding the fingers closed for a long time can be a physical strain. To work around that, so you can hold something for a while without straining, there is a mounting system, where a nut with an octagonal shape can be attached. While the mounting system is static, the rest of the mount can change for a variety of tasks. 

Thus one of the tasks was to come up with new designs that can be 3D printed with the attachment nut, and used in the hand. People came up with many great ideas, from attachments to hold brooms and shovels, to tooth brushes, to game controllers, etc. My design was to hold an iPad mini, without the child needing to flex their fingers continuously.

I know it doesn't look real sexy, I had to run to meetings and my time was short. Also, it may not be a perfect fit, as I had to google the dimensions of the iPad mini. However, it felt pretty good taking a few minutes to do something that may help others, while still being able to enjoy AU for myself. 

If you were at AU, what were your highlights? What did you like best? Post a comment.

If you weren't at AU, give it serious consideration for next year. 

Until next time, I decided I really liked the coloring of this one. It was too small for my hand though.